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Sewage spill 'a series of unfortunate events'? 

Arguments over a sewage spill in the South County—a spill that caused raw sewage to back up into people’s homes and reportedly made them sick—will be weighed by water quality officials on Sept. 7.

Members of the Regional Water Quality Control Board will consider imposing a $1.4 million fine on the South SLO County Sanitation District, a penalty for a raw sewage overflow that occurred during a rainstorm in December 2010.

State prosecutors allege the problem was caused by delayed preventive maintenance and repairs and incorrect operating procedures at the sewage treatment plant in Oceano. The sanitation district says the spill had nothing to do with any failure to maintain and operate the plant, and instead resulted from “a series of unfortunate events.”

Even before the storm in late 2010, the State Water Board Office of Enforcement was already investigating the sanitation district. Three whistleblowers—former employees—had reported feeling pressured by the district administrator to alter lab sampling data presented to the water board.

John Wallace is the district administrator, as well as the president of the Wallace Group, an engineering consulting firm responsible for implementing capital improvement projects at the treatment plant.

According to the prosecution team’s legal brief, “To the extent that there have been improprieties in the way that the Wallace Group has overseen its obligations at the district that caused or contributed to the spill, perhaps the penalty should not be passed on to the ratepayers.”

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